Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Synchronicity of Friends

Hieroglyphics, 2007

Through the years I’ve been fortunate to meet many interesting people. Some came and went from my life quickly. Some became friends that I see regularly. Some are “consequential strangers,” people who hover constantly at the edge of my life. I don’t know a lot about them. But they’re a regular presence.

And then there are the friends who are real soul mates. Now that I think about it, I have more of them than I thought. Each one is rooted in some deep personal connection. Each is different from all the others and each one makes my life richer. One of the things that defines them is a commitment to friendship that doesn’t require regular physical presence.

These are the kinds of friends you might not see from year to year. But when you do get together, it’s like you never ended your last conversation. You just pick up and carry on. Invariably, you find that your lives or moods or circumstances have been whirling in similar but not intersecting orbits.

About five years ago I found out I had a common chronic disease. It isn’t life threatening. But it could become so over time if I didn’t take better care of myself. This included getting more exercise. The only way I could figure out how to fit the necessary exercise into my day was to start my day a little sooner. So for several years I got up at 5:30 a.m. each morning and walked five miles. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. But there was a certain amount of fear-of-the-alternative that kept me going. 

During the years I was doing this, I much preferred the dark mornings of winter to the humid dawns of summer. I don't handle cold very well any more. But there were fewer distractions in the dark. It was easier to concentrate on keeping one foot in front of the other while I worked on other things in my head.

One spring I realized there was a whole lot going on in the path I walked each morning. The streets were full of hieroglyphics, it seemed. One morning I took my camera with me when I walked and chronicled some of these marks and colors and rifts in the earth. They became a series I called “At My Feet.” You can see it here.

During the summer of 2008, I had a chance to catch up with my friend Mike McDermott. We became fast friends about twenty years ago when we were presidents of different chapters of the same professional society. We both later became national officers of the organization. We are about the same age and have interesting similarities in our life stories. We're both parents of daughters. Mike's a marketing guy for a large federal agency. In his spare time, Mike writes poetry (and novels and screenplays).

The day we got together I told him about my return to photography. When I told him I’d gotten so involved that I’d even taken to taking pictures of things I found at my feet, he practically jumped from the table and told me, “I’ve got just the poem for you.”

And he did.

Herewith, “Cement Block History,” by Mike McDermott

It was cold, the walk back.

On the way, I looked down

and counted the blocks . . .

One, two, three –

boring cement blocks they seem

only if you count them.

A story was there

underneath the footprints

on the cement blocks:

“DM + CR”
“Kathy is a . . .”

cracks, old brittleness,

rough new cement,

a smashed worm after the rain,

broken Pepsi bottle –

the pieces seeming to last

the length of the journey.

Blocks still to be there

after the journey’s done,

there to be the way

of another journey begun.